April 1, 2016 / 3:32 PM / 2 years ago

US STOCKS-Wall St up slightly as investors assess economic data

* March payrolls data better than expected

* Tesla up after new sedan unveiled

* Dow up 0.14 pct, S&P flat, Nasdaq up 0.19 pct (Adds details, changes comment, updates prices)

By Abhiram Nandakumar

April 1 (Reuters) - Wall Street recouped early losses on Friday, helped by healthcare stocks, as investors assessed data pointing to a strong recovery in the U.S. economy.

Gains were limited by a nearly 4 percent fall in crude prices amid increasing skepticism around a deal to freeze crude production.

The Labor Department’s report showed solid gains in nonfarm payrolls in March, underscoring the economy’s resilience amid risks from a weak global economy.

While the unemployment rate rose to 5 percent from an eight-year low of 4.9 percent, it was because more Americans continued to return to the labor force.

A separate report showed the U.S. manufacturing sector resumed growth in March, bolstered by strength in new orders.

“Most of the economic data goes into a ‘what will the Fed do’ quandary,” said Kim Forrest, research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. “I think what we’ve gotten today is that it’s weak enough to still support the two rate hikes, maybe one rate hike.”

Traders are pricing in only one rate hike in 2016, but the odds are now about a one-in-three chance of a hike in June, and a better-than-even chance of one by September, based on the price of Fed funds futures contracts.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen this week urged caution on raising interest rates, given the global risks to the U.S. economy and low oil prices.

At 10:52 a.m. ET (1452 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average was up 24.35 points, or 0.14 percent, at 17,709.44, the S&P 500 was down 0.09 points, or -0 percent, at 2,059.65 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 9.23 points, or 0.19 percent, at 4,879.08.

Five of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, led by a 0.59 percent rise in the healthcare sector. Regeneron provided the biggest boost to the sector and the S&P 500.

The drugmaker’s shares were up 9.6 percent at $395.20 after its experimental treatment for eczema was found to be highly effective in two large studies.

Chevron was off 1.3 percent and weighed the most on the Dow, while Exxon fell 1.1 percent and was the biggest drag on the S&P.

U.S. stocks ended the first quarter with a whimper on Thursday after a seven-week rally that rescued the S&P 500 from its worst start to a year since 2009. The recovery helped the S&P and the Dow log their second-straight quarter of gains.

Marriott was down 5.9 percent at $66.95 after China’s Anbang Insurance abandoned its $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels. Starwood was down 5.2 percent at $79.13.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,882 to 970. On the Nasdaq, 1,293 issues fell and 1,269 rose.

The S&P 500 index showed 39 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 21 new highs and 15 new lows. (Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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